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Quadrennial Defense Review

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a legislatively-mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities. The QDR will set a long-term course for
DoD as it assesses the threats and challenges that the nation faces and re-balances DoD's strategies, capabilities, and forces to address today's conflicts and tomorrow's threats.

Marine Corps Operations: Today and in 2025

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James T. Conway
As Delivered to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
May 15, 2009  Bio | Printer friendly version

...Let us talk about the QDR. We think that again as a Marine Corps, we are going to be scrutinized during the QDR, but in the end, we think we will be okay. The reason I say that is that the Marine Corps pulls down about 6 percent of the department's budget. For that 6 percent, you get about 24 percent of the maneuver battalions, you get 15 percent of the attack aircraft, and you get 21 percent of the attack helicopters. We're pretty lean. We are built for a fight. The average Marine costs this country about $20,000 less than the next closest service member in other services. Our officer-to-enlisted ratio is one to nine; the next closest service is one to five.

In some services, you will have one civilian for every couple of military people. In the Marine Corps, it is one civilian for every 15 Marines. We have a purpose out there. There are Marines who say we have a huge bureaucracy but by comparison, my point to you is that we do not. We are built for one thing, and that is to fight this nation's wars.

Second, the Secretary of Defense has said what he seeks is a balanced force oriented towards the hybrid but able to counter the surprise that we sometimes see in the global development of things. We think that accurately describes what we provide to this great nation. We call ourselves a two-fisted fighter, able to go both ways. One hundred percent of our Marine Corps procurement can be used in both the hybrid kind of environment or in major combat. We are proud of that record, and it is going to continue downrange.

That said, there are probably three issues that we will see come up that will involve Marine Corps equities over the course of the QDR. The first is the global lay-down of forces, and that will play particularly as it relates to our pending move to Guam. We have committed ourselves to the move, as has the department. We also have the personal promise of the Under Secretary of Defense, Michele Flournoy. She is going to help us with some of the issues that have arisen from that potential move. We think there will be some discussion in the QDR in terms of global force lay-down, not only as it relates to the Pacific but also to Europe and particularly Korea.

There will be attack air discussion. There always is. It is one of the repeat performers at QDRs. Once again, I think one of the major portions of the discussion will have to do with attack aircraft shortfall or trends in service procurement of those aircraft. We have a little bit of a different situation. We have not bought a fighter attack aircraft now in 11 years. We have been on what we call a procurement holiday. We chose not to buy the F18-E and F when the Navy did, so that we could await the arrival of a fifth- generation fighter called the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35-B. Interestingly, we are the first of all the services to get the initial operational capacity out of that aircraft, and it scheduled to happen for us at about 2012.

We have known for a long time about the risk of having lesser aircraft than we might ideally like to have in our squadrons. We are trying to mitigate it through extending our F-18 A through D to 10,000 hours, and we are trying to make sure that our manufacturer stays on target with regard to this 2012 Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

There are also a couple of other countries interested in the very plane. In fact they have contracted for the very plane that we are bringing aboard so that we all move together forward on this thing. All I think are important to the program and to the arrival of this new aircraft.

The thing I think that we will probably spend the most time with you on, and I don't know how much of the QDR it's going to consume: You have heard the secretary say that one of the things we have tossed into the QDR is going to be the concept of how much amphibious capability do we need? That is a major player as far as Marines are concerned of course, in conjunction with our Navy brothers, because it talks about that niche capability that we provide to this great nation.

The Secretary has said we need to have some, but how much is enough? The problem, if you can call it a problem, which we have seen in the early discussion, there is too much of a tendency to look at amphibious class ships as a high-end capability. When we start talking amphibs, we immediately go to forcible entry landings. I would rephrase the question a little bit and say: How much does this maritime nation and world superpower need for purposes of security cooperation and theater engagement? If you ask that question to the combatant commanders, they will tell you almost uniformly that it is their number one requirement. That is what they want to see in the world in the future.

If you ask the Chief of Naval Operations, what is the best ship to do that, I believe his answer would be an L-class ship. He says, if you put a frigate off another nation's coast, you can train half a dozen midshipmen. If you put an amphib off that coast, you can train the midshipman but you also have a helicopter capability to go to and from the shore. You have sufficient medical and dental capability to offer to the nation you are visiting. You put your Marines ashore either for training with yet another branch of the service or engineers to help with building. There is a great deal more capability underneath that flag on an L-class ship.

We think that the value on a day-in and day-out basis is really with the engagement that this nation has to be able to accomplish over time, and doing it from the sea. What we see increasingly is that nations want the effect. They want what we bring but they do not want our footprint ashore; and that has happened a number of times within the past five or six years.

It reminds me of a sign I remember seeing when I was stationed in California. The governor of Oregon posted a sign at the Oregon/California border so Californians could read it saying: "You're welcome to visit, but don't plan to stay." I think that there is a lot of that same mentality there with some of the nations today that we deal with. That speaks to the value of the amphibs.

There is an interesting intersection out there, of the numbers. When the Global Force Management Board computes the requirements for theater engagement, and works in Navy rotation requirements, they get about the same number of ships that we need for forcible entry, at the two-brigade level. Let us talk about that for just a moment. Let us talk about the high end.

Right now, we are at the point where we can forcibly project two brigades ashore if the nation directs us to do so. Again, the Secretary's question is, how much is enough? My question is, how much is too little? Because at some point you lose the capacity to go across another nation's shore if you do not have the ability to do so. An amphibious operation is very complex; it is the most sophisticated of military operations, and it requires a suitable amount of force because you are in a race for time wherever you are going.

The other guy is trying to put you back into the water and you're trying to build up as soon as you can. You need to arrive with a certain amount of force. If we were to drop that capacity, from two brigades to a single brigade, we are talking about a regiment of Marines going across another nation's shore. Now we are good, but we are not that good, okay? I advocate that in time that the risk becomes so great that you would probably not do it.

It gets to the basic question; does this nation need a viable forcible entry capability? Certainly from my perch it does. The EFV is a subset of that. It will likely be discussed under the heading of "amphib capability." The United States Navy does not plan to go 25 miles or closer to the shore, and at this point, we need a capability to bridge that distance to shore.

We have these old AAVs that putter along at about six miles an hour. They will be 40 years old by the time the first EFVs hit the fleet. Quite frankly, if you were to try to put Marines ashore from 25 or 30 miles out in that vehicle, half would step off carrying their helmets and the other half would be very, very angry. I think all those considerations need to be taken into account.

Okay. I need to save some time for questions. Let me stop there, folks, and see what is on your mind this morning that perhaps I might be able to answer. Thank you very much.